When Steve Smith was called into the BaggyGreen squad after the capitulation in Adelaide there was more hype surrounding his selection than Lady Gaga received for her latest nearly pornographic music video.
There was plenty to like. He was young. He was a leg spinner. He did well at Lord’s. He could handle a bat and he learned his cricket in New South Wales. However, like the pap that Gaga produces, when you scratched the surface and looked a little deeper there was little of substance underneath.
As far as I can tell Smith is a specialist fieldsman and a very good one at that. He isn’t a Test batsman. His innings and modes of dismissal in this series stand testament to that sad fact. At present, he isn’t a Test match bowler either. He’s only thrown the ball as a last resort when all else has failed.
So the question needs to be asked, why is he in the team?
Tim Nielsen spoke of how Smith would bring enthusiasm and energy to the squad and I was surprised that so many swallowed that gift wrapped spinning turd. Someone should inform Tim that runs and wickets decide Test matches not trying hard and being a nice bloke. Additionally, and this should be obvious to most, if you are playing for your country in an Ashes Test in front of a packed stadium you shouldn’t need any extra motivation nor an example set by a kid who is more familiar with zit cream than the foamy shaving stuff.
Surely, with Australia’s batting failing to score 300 plus with any regularity what’s needed is some stability and grit in the middle to lower order. For all his failings Marcus North did put a high price on his wicket and when he got in he invariably went on with it. Not that I’m advocating for North’s reintroduction but the team needs a specialist batsman, preferably an experienced one that can recognise when to attack and when to defend.
Thankfully for Australian cricket, Smith is a wrist spinner, one reminiscent of a young pudgy Warne, and the Test team desperately needs a leggie. However, I feel that the selectors, by using Smith primarily as a batsman, are doing the kid and Australian cricket no favours whatsoever.
He should be spending his practise time refining the very difficult and dark art of wrist spin especially with Shane Warne available while following the circus around the continent in his commentating role.
Instead, the selectors and coaching staff have him focusing primarily on batting which is a terrible waste considering there are plenty of batsmen available and wrist spinners are as rare as platypus eggs.
In summary, I do not blame Steve Smith for this situation. The fault lies squarely with those that counsel him. For now, Smith should be encouraged to bowl as often as possible in Shield cricket while continuing to play his part for Australia in the shorter forms.
There have been too many mistakes to remember since Nielsen became coach but not harnessing and nurturing the potential of the most promising young leg-spinner in the country is probably the worst. Conceivably the confusion could ruin the lad. I sincerely hope that is not the case.